Several years ago I arrived at a friend's wedding wearing my dress blue uniform. I felt sharp and important in spite of the three lonely ribbons on my chest. Before the ceremony a couple who had served in World War II sat in the pew behind me and eagerly introduced themselves. By the commotion that they made in thanking me for my service you would have thought that I had done something important. I started feeling a little silly as I listened to his stories of amphibious assault landings in the Pacific, and her experiences as a nurse in France. I was dumbfounded. These people were my heroes and they were thanking me?
My confusion at their appreciation led me to ask myself a question that should weigh heavily on all of us on Veterans Day: what does it mean to thank someone for their service?
The easy answer is that it depends. We can always poke fun at politicians who use "supporting the troops" as a political football. But when people truly mean what they say, somehow it isn't as easy to know how to respond. There were dozens of kindergarteners and second graders who sent my platoon cookies and cards while we were overseas. We received letters and gear from complete strangers, and when I returned home to visit my mom people would anonymously pay our bill in restaurants.
How can we repay that kind of random, heartfelt generosity?
I have been floored by the appreciation of the men and women who lived the stories of war that filled my history books as a child. The generosity of schoolchildren, restaurant patrons, and secret-Santas from all over America kept me from slipping into cynicism in the mountains of Afghanistan.
On Veterans Day we honor the hard work and sacrifice of the entire veteran community. That support means different things to different people, but it means more than you know.
Thanksgiving is at its best when tempered with the sincerity and humility that I have seen in those who supported me. Thank you.